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On Tuesday, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman became the first person on President Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry. He said he had been “concerned” by Trump’s request during the call for Ukraine to open investigations into the Biden family. Yamiche Alcindor reports and joins Judy Woodruff and Lisa Desjardins to discuss.
For the first time, investigators in the House of Representatives have heard a direct account of the phone call that launched the impeachment inquiry.
It came today from a veteran of 20 years in the U.S. military.
White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.
He arrived at the Capitol in uniform wearing his medals. Alexander Vindman, an Army lieutenant colonel, works for the National Security Council.
On Tuesday, he became the first White House official who was on the call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine to testify as part of the impeachment inquiry.
That call happened on July 25 with President Volodymyr Zelensky and sits at the heart of the Democrats' investigations. In prepared testimony, Vindman said he was concerned about what he heard.
Some Republicans, like Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio, dismissed the testimony in advance.
Rep. Jim Jordon, R-Ohio:
But the fundamental facts have never changed. We can read the call. We know what President Trump and President Zelensky have said.
Democrats, by contrast, said it was more confirmation of President Trump's misconduct.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.:
You have a whistle-blower complaint that has been repeatedly validated by Trump's own appointees.
Vindman said he witnessed attempts to pressure Zelensky into opening an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The younger Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company Burisma.
In his opening statement, Vindman said of the July call that — quote — "I didn't think it was proper to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government's support of Ukraine." He went on: "I realized that, if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma, it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play, which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained."
Soon after the call, Vindman said he relayed his worries to the National Security Council's top lawyer. It was the second time he had raised the issue. The first was after a July 10 meeting including Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, and Ukraine's national security adviser.
According to Vindman, Sondland said it was important that Ukraine open an investigation if Zelensky wanted a meeting with President Trump. Vindman wrote that he told Sondland later that — quote — "His statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push."
Earlier this month, Sondland told lawmakers that no one at the NSC ever expressed any concerns. Meanwhile, some of President Trump's allies attacked Vindman and questioned his loyalty to the U.S.
"FOX & Friends" host Brian Kilmeade:
We also know he was born in the Soviet Union, emigrated with his family, young. He tends to feel simpatico with the Ukraine.
And former Wisconsin Republican Congressman Sean Duffy:
I don't know that he's concerned about American policy, but his main mission was to make sure that the Ukraine got those weapons.
I understand that. We all have an affinity to our homeland, where we came from.
The president tweeted — without evidence — that Vindman is a never-Trumper.
Vindman said his family brought him to the United States from the Soviet Union in 1979, when he was 3 years old. He served in the U.S. military for two decades. He earned a Purple Heart after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He held also various diplomatic posts before joining the NSC in 2018 as a Ukraine expert.
He testified today he has served in a — quote — "nonpartisan manner."
And at least one Republican, Wyoming's Liz Cheney, defended him.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo.:
I think that we need to show that we're better than that as a nation. Their patriotism, their love of country, we're talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation.
Meanwhile, House Democrats are now moving toward holding a formal vote on the impeachment inquiry and public hearings.
This afternoon, the text of the resolution was released. It gives Republicans some of what they have been demanding after they slammed Democrats for not holding a House floor vote on the inquiry. The House is expected to vote Thursday on the resolution.
And Yamiche joins me now, along with Lisa Desjardins, who's been watching this all from Capitol Hill.
So, hello to both of you.
Lisa, I'm going to start with you.
What do we know now about what the Democrats are proposing to do for how to run this impeachment process?
And we just got a look at these details in the last couple of hours.
So, first, let's talk about this resolution, what it doesn't do. It is not specifically changing the status of this impeachment inquiry. It's not a test of whether this is a formal inquiry or not. Democrats maintain it already has been.
What this does is, it lays out procedures, a framework for going ahead with their impeachment investigation. So, let's talk about that.
What Republicans are getting that they like out of this is public hearings. That's something we know the public wants as well. Here's how those are going to work. It will be held by the Intelligence Committee only.
And during those committees, House lawyers for both sides may question the witnesses. Both parties will get equal time. Members can question as well. They will probably have less time than the lawyers.
Now, Republicans are unhappy, though, because, in this process, these rules mean that the Republicans will not be able to subpoena witnesses on their own.
After those public hearings, then the plan is to move to the Judiciary Committee and an impeachment debate, based on what the Intelligence Committee finds. During that process is when the president and his attorney may be present. That attorney can object and cross-examine witnesses. This all will be in public.
And, again, the Republicans will not be able to subpoena without essentially help from the Democrats, the blessing of Democrats. That is something Republicans do not like.
It's notable that the Intelligence Committee is going to be doing these public hearings on their own. That's only 22 members of Congress. This is a small group that Democrats are focusing on, first of all. And then now we're looking at a Judiciary Committee process that will be highly dramatic, only really the third time in modern history we have seen anything like this.
Democrats are laying the groundwork now.
So, Yamiche, we know that this vote, there will be a formal vote, as we heard on Thursday, on this impeachment inquiry in the House.
What is the White House saying? What is their thinking now in terms of, do they — are they going to be more cooperative in terms of witnesses, in terms of documents, once there is this formal vote?
The White House is very unhappy with this resolution. And they're making that very clear tonight.
Just in the last couple of minutes, the White House press secretary put out a statement, and she said essentially that this is an illegitimate continuation of what she sees as an illegitimate sham. She also says: "This resolution does nothing to change the fundamental fact that House Democrats refuse to provide basic due process rights to this administration."
And they're taking issue with two big things. The first is the White House participation. As Lisa just laid out, this — the White House is really included in the second part of this. It's when the Judiciary Committee gets involved.
And the White House is basically saying that's a one-sided hearing in the House Intelligence, and then you're going to have a biased report for the Judiciary Committee, and then we get to finally get to be involved.
They also say that the White House doesn't really have its own rights defined, it's not clear. So they're essentially saying that it's uncertain how the White House is going to be able to actually have an input in this process.
I should tell you that I was talking to a senior White House official before this text came out. And they said to me, I'm really worried that this is going to really just provide cover for Democrats, but it's not going to solve the fundamental issues that Republicans have.
And, tonight, essentially, the White House is saying this is not solving the issues that we had with this investigation and with this inquiry. So it seems as though the White House is not going to be complying with any sorts of witness requests or any sorts of document requests.
And, Yamiche, just continuing with all this today, this very concerning testimony from Colonel Vindman, how is it thought that that fits into the inquiry? And what is the White House saying about it?
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman is really seen right now as a critical witness in this impeachment inquiry by Democrats.
He came to Congress and essentially said that he was concerned about the president pushing for these investigations into Ukraine. He also said that he basically wanted to come forward as a patriot.
And his testimony led to a very fiery back-and-forth between lawmakers. So, the reporting I have is that Republicans were being accused by Democrats of really trying to push the lieutenant colonel to reveal the identity of the whistle-blower.
And Democrats said that that was essentially not fair. In his opening statement that we got last night, Vindman says very clearly, I'm not the whistle-blower, and I do not know who the whistle-blower is.
But, essentially, Democrats are saying Republicans were still trying to push him with that.
The other thing to note, though, is that President Trump has been tweeting that he wants to know who the whistle-blower is, and he's also been lashing out at Vindman. He said he's a never-Trumper, even though there's no evidence of that.
He also said that this is someone he didn't know, even though he's on the National Security Council. He's still working at the White House right now.
And I also want to walk you through the timeline that Vindman really laid out here. So, first, there's this July 10, 2019 meeting. And it's a meeting with Ukrainian officials and the U.S. officials in Washington, D.C.
And, essentially, Vindman says that Ambassador Sondland, who's a political appointee, the ambassador to the European Union, started to speak out, asking Ukraine for specific investigations. He says then that the national security adviser, John Bolton, cut the meeting short, and that essentially several U.S. officials said to Ambassador Sondland, this is inappropriate.
He says, I myself went to Ambassador Sondland and said, this is inappropriate. You can't be talking about this investigation to the Ukrainians.
And Vindman then is so frustrated by this and so concerned that he goes to the NSC lead counsel on that. So that's the first time he goes to that. Then move forward to the July 25 phone call. Vindman is on the call listening. President Trump mentions the Bidens, talks about the fact that he wants to have a favor from Ukraine.
Vindman again goes to the NSC lead counsel and says, for a second time, I'm very, very concerned by this.
So how he fits in is that there are several key players that have come to Congress, that he's now is describing their actions and what he's seen firsthand. So what you have is someone really describing what was going on before the call and after the call.
So, Lisa, back to you.
Clearly, things are moving very quickly, with all these developments.
Do we have a sense now of the timeline on impeachment? And who else remains to be called before these committees?
If anyone says they know for sure when any votes are happening, that's just not true. We don't know yet.
But I think we're narrowing down the window that Democrats are looking at in concept. And I think, generally, Judy, to sum it up, this is a quick timeline. And we will talk more about this. We have a newsletter about this that we send out each day. And you can look at that online.
But, quickly, Judy, just to tell you, it does look like we could be heading toward a full House vote on impeachment as soon as the end of December or beginning of January. That seems to be the path right now.
And that's in the House?
That's in the House only. And then that would set up the Senate trial following that, potentially end of December, more likely January or after.
In January 2020.
All right, Lisa, Yamiche, thank you both.
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